News

1. Four more COVID-19 related deaths

“The province announced 55 new COVID-19 cases in the province on Thursday afternoon, the largest single-day increase so far,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

There were also four more deaths associated with the disease, all reported at long-term care facilities. Three deaths occurred at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax, and one at Harbourstone Enhanced Care in Sydney.

These latest figures bring the total number of COVID-19 deaths in Nova Scotia to 16. Of  those 16 deaths, 12 were at Northwood and two were residents of Sydney’s Harbourstone.

The overall number of confirmed cases in the province now stands at 827. Ten people are in the hospital with the virus, four of them in ICU.

Yesterday’s COVID numbers were difficult to deal with. Everything seems to be trending the wrong way. Starting with deaths:

The fatality rate is now at a near-record high, at 4.3% of resolved cases (either deaths or recoveries):

Yesterday also saw the highest daily number of new known cases, by far, to 55, and the trend line does not look good:

After a brief dip, the number of active cases in Nova Scotia has resumed its upward march, to 453:

2. Nursing homes

The Northwood nursing home on Gottingen Street in Halifax. Photo: Halifax Examiner Credit: Halifax Examiner / Tim Bousquet

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

Partly because the masking protocol came too late to prevent the spread of the virus from workers who showed no symptoms, and partly because the majority of the resident rooms in the 485-bed facility are shared, the coronavirus has been been able to spread through the Northwood nursing home. Twelve people with the disease have died at Northwood.

Residents who test positive are doubled up with residents who test negative. According to Northwood’s latest numbers, a total of 197 residents and staff are now positive for the virus. That represents a whopping 24% of the total number of COVID cases in Nova Scotia.

A week ago, eight seniors’ facilities were reporting 98 COVID-19 cases among staff and residents. By Wednesday, that number has more than doubled to 237 cases at “10 licensed and unlicensed seniors’ homes,” according to the Department of Health release yesterday.

The vast majority of those cases are at Northwood but the fact there are now 40 cases distributed among nine other homes prompted the Halifax Examiner to ask the Department of Health for the names of the facilities where residents and staff have the virus.

The department has declined to provide that information and provided this explanation:

We are working to balance the privacy of individual citizens with transparency during this unprecedented situation. Other than Northwood in Halifax, no other individual licensed long-term care home or unlicensed seniors’ facility has more than five residents with COVID-19. Due to these small numbers, we will not be releasing the names of those facilities to reduce risk of identifying individual residents.

Aside from the one unlicensed home mentioned in the news release, which by definition would house fewer than 10 residents, it’s difficult to fathom why the province would suggest the “privacy” of residents would  be compromised to name the places — not the people — where COVID-19 has emerged. A check of the 92 nursing homes listed on the province’s Registry reveals only 14 homes with fewer than 20 residents. Most nursing homes have 50 beds or more. Perhaps it is not the residents’ privacy the Department of Health is shielding but rather the operators of those homes.

The Admiral home in Dartmouth.

While the Department of Health may be accurate in stating no other home has more than five infected residents, The Admiral facility in Dartmouth confirmed yesterday it has one resident and 11 staff who have tested positive for the virus. So it still has a significant number of cases.

Oceanview Manor in Dartmouth has one resident and three staff with the disease and Harbourstone in Sydney has two residents who are still positive.

To their credit, all of the homes named in this article have openly communicated this information to families and the public by means of updates on their websites.

“It is important to note that these homes are keeping residents, their families, and staff updated about the situation and public health is fully-engaged on all cases,” says the emailed response from the Department of Health asking for names of facilities with COVID cases.

The cases the Examiner knows about do not add up to the total (40) in long-term care homes apart from Northwood. There probably are only a few at a handful of other facilities and all would be reported to Public Health. Whether the families of their residents would know is uncertain.

A scan of more than a dozen websites for long-term care homes in the province show a wide range of communication styles. Some commit to telling families if and when someone at their home tests positive. Others make no mention of the “C” word at all.

It’s safe to say everyone working in long-term care is fully occupied with the additional cleaning and protective measures that have been put in place over the last several weeks to keep COVID out. And the strict “no visitors” policy. So far, that seems to be paying off with only a small number of homes reporting cases. It would be even better to let us know where they are.

3. Impersonating cops

The killer’s replica police car. Photo: RCMP

“The man police say killed 22 people in Nova Scotia last weekend made no secret of his quest to build a near-perfect, highly detailed replica of an RCMP cruiser, according to those who knew him,” reports Jonathon Gatehouse for the CBC:

“He created the car,” said Donald Walker, a Dartmouth, N.S., funeral director who employed the suspected gunman years ago, and remained on friendly terms. “He didn’t walk up to the auction and there was an RCMP car already decked out like that.

“Most of us thought it was all a bit of a hobby, not something that would lead to this kind of situation.”

Walker says [the gunman] pulled out his cellphone on one of the last occasions that they saw each other — either late last summer, or in early fall — and proudly shared pictures of an authentic-looking, marked RCMP cruiser.

“He said that he had talked to the police,” the funeral director said. “That they suggested to him, if he was going to take it to car shows, that he not drive it on the road, but take it by trailer.”

That the gunman impersonated a cop — in addition to the replica cruiser, the gunman was wearing an authentic RCMP uniform — added to the confusion during the killing spree. We don’t know for sure yet, but it appears that some of the victims thought the gunman was an actual cop, and that may have led to their deaths. And the RCMP evidently tweeted out the photo for fear that the public might be further endangered by the ruse.

But impersonating cops is nothing new, and it’s long been associated with people who are violent. Examiner contributor Evelyn White points me to a 2011 New York Times article, “In Florida, Criminals Pose as Police More Frequently and for More Violent Ends,” by reporter

As long as police officers have worn uniforms and carried badges, criminals have dressed like them to try to win the trust of potential victims. Now the impersonators are far more sophisticated, according to nearly a dozen city police chiefs and detectives across the country.

In South Florida, seemingly an incubator of law-breaking innovation, police impersonators have become better organized and, most troubling to law enforcement officials, more violent. The practice is so common that the Miami-Dade Police Department has a Police Impersonator Unit.

Since the unit was established in 2007, it has arrested or had encounters with more than 80 phony officers in Miami-Dade County, and the frequency has increased in recent months, said Lt. Daniel Villanueva, who heads the unit.

“It’s definitely a trend,” Lieutenant Villanueva said. “They use the guise of being a police officer to knock on a door, and the victim lowers their guard for just a second. At that point, it’s too late.”

Some police impersonators commit violent crimes like home invasions, car-jackings, rapes and, rarely, murders.

Last summer, a Tampa man impersonating an undercover officer used a badge and a siren to pull over a 28-year-old woman and rape her. In January, the man, Luis Harris, 31, was convicted of sexual battery, grand theft, kidnapping and impersonating a police officer, among other charges. A judge sentenced Mr. Harris to life in prison.

Other police impersonators, police chiefs and detectives say, masquerade as officers for more benign reasons, like trying to scare or impress someone. “Usually,” Detective Baez said, “the wannabe cop outfits their vehicles with police lights and fake insignias to fulfill some psychological need.”

I’ve come across this 2013 article in the Guelph Mercury about Ontario Justice Norman Douglas convicting a man named Dale Smart of impersonating a cop, but downplaying the crime:

Douglas said it’s a serious infraction when people impersonate police, noting Smart’s elaborate uniform when discovered some time after midnight on June 6, 2012.

He said it’s not illegal to impersonate others.

“Some people impersonate Elvis,” said the judge, a well-known Presley imitator.

“He went to a lot of effort to look like a peace officer,” Douglas said. But he said Smart didn’t have a Criminal Code record and wants to further his education. Douglas added there was no indication police sense Smart is a danger.

“I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Douglas said in deciding not to jail him.

Impersonating a cop is illegal in Canada. Section 130(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada reads:

Personating peace officer

Everyone commits an offence who
(a) falsely represents himself to be a peace officer or a public officer; or
(b) not being a peace officer or public officer, uses a badge or article of uniform or equipment in a manner that is likely to cause persons to believe that he is a peace officer or a public officer, as the case may be.

Violation is punishable with up to five years in prison.

People smarter than me can explore why violent and murderous people sometimes have the psychological need to identify as cops, but I don’t think it’s as simple as “it lets me get away with stuff.”

4. Missing tweet

When the Halifax Examiner was piecing together the timeline of Sunday’s murder spree, and the RCMP’s response to it, one of the areas of interest was the 13 tweets issued by the RCMP during the event.

Two of our writers — Joan Baxter and Yvette d’Entremont — had taken screenshots of all the tweets, but when I went back to double-check the timestamps on the tweets, a tweet published at 8:54am was missing from the RCMP’s Twitter feed. This one:

This tweet was important for several reasons. First, it was the second tweet issued Sunday morning, and it was the first to provide the gunman’s name and image. This was important information to give the public during an unfolding emergency.

But as we look back, that 8:54am tweet is important because it is documentary evidence that suggests the RCMP’s communication response was ham-fisted. As we detailed, even as early as late Saturday night, the RCMP knew that the gunman was not in the Portapique area, but the 8:54am Sunday tweet, as well as an earlier tweet at 8:02am Sunday, both used the hashtag #portapique, and neither mentioned that he was not in Portapique.

If we are to go back and make sense of the course of events, the 8:54am tweet is essential. The subsequent tweets don’t make much sense if we don’t understand that the gunman’s name and face was already tweeted out.

Why was the tweet deleted?

My guess is that the tweet was deleted after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement calling on the media to not use the gunman’s name or face:

I want to ask the media to avoid mentioning the name and showing the picture of the person involved. Do not give him the gift of infamy. Let us instead focus all our intention and attention on the lives we lost and the families and friends who grieve.

The sentiment may be understandable, but we have a free press in this country, and we certainly do not take marching orders from the prime minister or any other politician.

(The Examiner has so far avoided using the gunman’s name or image in the text of our reporting, but when we’ve found it necessary — like when building the timeline or writing this article — we have used the RCMP’s tweets, which mentioned the name and used his image. As we get into more in-depth reporting with the aim of providing a detailed telling of events and the nuance necessary for the story, we’ll almost certainly use his name; but that’s down the road.)

Did the RCMP take down the tweet because of Trudeau’s directive to the media?

This is very problematic.

Because the RCMP did not use official government communication channels during the rampage, the tweets are the only documents that could be considered public records of the event. By deleting the tweet, the RCMP seems to have contravened public records policy.

We in Halifax have had great fun when whoever operates the Halifax Transit feed makes a typo or otherwise issues a mangled tweet, but the tweet stays on the Twitter feed forever, because the civil servants are prohibited from going back and changing the public record. That may seem silly with regard to old transit tweets, but it’s absolutely necessary with regard to police records during a murder spree.

5. Canadaland

I was on yesterday’s Canadaland podcast, speaking with Jesse Brown about the murder rampage and about the media bailout. Listen here.


Views

1. Spring, Part 5

Photo: Stephen Archibald.

Stephen Archibald continues his springtime romp around the cove.


Government

No public meetings.


In the harbour

06:00: ZIM Shekou, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
06:30: Maersk Maker, offshore supply ship, moves from Pier 9 to Thialf, a crane ship anchored just outside the harbour
08:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
10:00: Maersk Maker moves back to Pier 9
13:00: Maersk Maker moves back to Thialf
15:30: ZIM Shekou sails for New York
16:30: Maersk Maker moves back to Pier 9


Footnotes

These are difficult times, for everyone. People react differently to the stress and anxiety, and I’ve learned to cut everyone (including myself) a lot of slack.

In fact, there’s been tremendous support for the Examiner these past few weeks. I honestly thought that with our increased coverage of both COVID-19 and the mass murder spree, the Examiner would be effectively bankrupt by now, or at least so indebted that we wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace, but thanks to readers’ financial support, we’ve kicked that can down the road a bit. So we’ll keep it up.

But there’s also some level of backlash and anger directed at the Examiner for our reporting, especially as it relates to our reporting on the RCMP. I think some people don’t understand that the role of an independent press is to challenge power, and especially so in times of crisis. Other people are just afraid and angry and are looking for a convenient target for their anger. Some small percentage, I think, have authoritarian instincts such that any questioning of police is a threat to them personally. And maybe there’s the hope that the world doesn’t operate this way — people really don’t want to hear that the powers that be sometimes fail at the job.

I’ll own legitimate criticism — we all make mistakes, and undoubtedly the Examiner will sometimes misstep. And I’ll hear out thoughtful criticism, even if I disagree with it, in the hope that that criticism helps us to do a better job.

But mostly, we need to carry on. This is the time for journalism.

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Thank you!




Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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8 Comments

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  1. Since Nova Scotians are asked to stay at home, limit their travel, etc. upon severe penalty, I am wondering then what exactly is going on at Nova Scotia’s borders and airports.

    Since the lockdown cannot be relaxed until the virus is limited in its presence, are strict measures in place to prevent the entry into Nova Scotia of the coronavirus from parts unknown? By persons whose activities and travel are unknown.

    Since Nova Scotia apparently has testing capacity and capability, it would make sense to lock down the borders. Anyone entering Nova Scotia should be tested for the virus. If they have the virus, they should be given the option of either returning to their departure point or being quarantined until their status is determined. All this should be done at the expense of the traveller, not the NS taxpayer.

    It seems these weak points in Nova Scotia’s containment strategy are not currently being addressed. But they will have to be sooner or later. Sooner would be better for all concerned.

  2. THank you to the team at the Examiner for asking the questions and even answering some about the killer– we need investigative journalism now. You are crucial.

  3. Thank you to all of the folks. Have you tried “wayback”…. to find “old internet” information?
    Also, I was curious if the killer had a cell phone with him. I believe it is very “easy” to “track” where a cell phone has been. It doesn’t mean it was with him, but it would be a place to start to determine his “trail”.
    This is all so overwhelming.
    I am not being a “monday morning quarterback” and I am not criticizing with 20/20 hindsight. I also don’t think you are doing that either when asking questions. “We should have” and “what if” are the two best questions for preparing for an immediate event and reflecting for the next time.

  4. re “Perhaps it is not the residents’ privacy the Department of Health is shielding but rather the operators of those homes.”

    That’s my guess as well. The reason they give for withholding this information seems very tenuous, while the public interest in having access to it seems obvious and pressing. What relevance does the fact that “no other individual licensed long-term care home or unlicensed seniors’ facility has more than five residents with COVID-19” have? Northwood too at one point had fewer than five residents with the disease and look at it now. How many cases would there have to be in a facility before they decided to release the information? If there are five cases in a single facility, I doubt very much it would be regarded as a “small number” to the other residents, or to the family of someone in that facility.

    Thanks for pressing them on this Jennifer henderson.

    re “This is the time for journalism.”

    It is indeed Tim, never more so. And you guys are all doing critical work. Please keep it up.

    1. I know it’s a bit late to point this out but according to its website there are “only” 11 deaths at Northwood.

    2. correction: “…would be regarded as a “small number” *by* the other residents, or *by* the family…”

  5. If you see something on the internet, SCREEN-SAVE it, because it might be gone in a blink. I remembered a very early story during the ‘nova scotia shootings’ that was about a friend of the killer who had him knocking on his door but he refused to open it, saving his life.
    I wanted to tie that into the timeline of the crime.
    But when I went back yesterday to google, I could not find any sign of it, until I looked into a cached version of a still-posted Globe & Mail story. There it was !
    God knows why this story about the owner of an “excavator operation just down the road from the Hidden Hill Top campgrounds in Glenholme” (G&M’s words) wasn’t followed up by others or why it was deleted almost completely.